FCC's Pending Digital Folly
By Geraldine Laybourne -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/8/2004 7:00:00 PM
Am I missing something here? The FCC wrote in last week's video-competition report that "the vast majority of Americans enjoy more choice, more programming and more services than any time in history." So why is the FCC considering a policy that would completely reverse the course of this dynamic marketplace that the commission and Congress have worked so hard to create?
That's right. With its reconsideration of digital must-carry, the FCC may overturn its previous ruling and adopt a policy that could stifle the creativity and innovation consumers now enjoy. I'm just now coming to terms with the unintended consequences of retransmission consent, which sped the consolidation of entertainment companies and brought a virtual halt to independent media ownership.
Am I missing something here? Doesn't any one remember the days when there was plenty of opportunity to create new brands and diverse programming for television viewers all across the country? Doesn't anyone recognize that cable programmers created more choice, quality and variety in programming than ever before?
So why is it that now, instead of allowing broadcast and cable networks to compete for carriage on cable systems based on the merits of their programming, some parties are encouraging the FCC to provide broadcast stations with a giant handout, an iron-clad guarantee of cable carriage for all their digital channels?
Am I missing something here? Don't the broadcasters already have a government-mandated option called must-carry, which guarantees cable carriage and preferential channel positioning for one channel? Why would the FCC consider a new mandate granting broadcasters carriage of additional digital channels, no matter what the content, business plan or viewer interest?
Wouldn't this compound the advantage that broadcasters already have in competing against cable networks for access to limited spectrum? Wouldn't this make it a lot more difficult for independent programmers, like Oxygen, to gain additional carriage?
We've fought hard to get widespread distribution for Oxygen—51.3 million homes and counting. We're carried by nine of the 10 biggest cable and satellite operators. The additional guarantees that broadcasters are seeking would make it even more difficult for a new independent network to launch. Yet it's the cable networks that have been at the forefront of creating diverse and innovative programming.
Competition is the key to innovation. It's an understatement to say the programming marketplace is already darn competitive. Shouldn't broadcasters have to compete as well? Is there a good reason for them to get another gift from the government, so their incentives to compete will no longer exist?
In 2001, the FCC had the right idea about digital must-carry when it ruled that dual must-carry was unconstitutional and broadcasters were entitled to carriage of only one digital signal. I just hope it continues to provide an environment that encourages all networks—broadcast and cable—to invest and innovate in programming that works for viewers. Otherwise, it will be the consumer that will be missing something.
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